August 06, 2018
It is Spears’s strength and vulnerability in the face of her troubles that most endears her to her fans
Britney Spears will keep her fans dancing til the world ends - Brighton Pride review
As the sun dips below the horizon at Brighton Pride, Britney Spears’s signature breathy vocals echo across Preston Park: “It’s been a while, I know I shouldn’t have kept you waiting, but I’m here now,” she whispers as her third track, "Break The Ice", begins to play.
But it turns out many of the 57,000 fans who travelled to see Spears perform at the UK’s biggest Pride event have been waiting a lot longer than a “while” to see her.
“I feel like my entire life has been leading up to this moment,” says 23-year-old Martin Wilson. “My gay life is finally complete”.
Martin’s words are typical of the fans that The Independent spoke with, who had covered their bodies in glitter and put on costumes for this very special occasion. Many express a deep emotional bond with her: “I cried when she came out and when she left”, says Sean Barter, 26. “It was a childhood dream come true and Pride was the perfect place to see her”.
There’s no denying Spears’s status as an LGBT+ icon. Over the course of her career, her LGBT+ fans have shown immense loyalty to her, especially when her personal struggles have made headlines. As strong as her musical contribution has been, to them, her influence transcends music: “It sounds cliché but Britney has always given me the strength to push through the bad times in my life, particularly growing up gay in the middle of nowhere,” Sean explains.
For people such as this writer, who grew up listening to Spears’s music on cassette tape, rewinding "Oops!... I Did It Again" hundreds of times to perfect the dance routine and learn that iconic Titanic-inspired speaking interlude; Brighton Pride is a cherished memory in a special friendship. Seeing her perform at a Pride event feels like an acknowledgement of the support the LGBT+ community has given her.
Spears’s Piece of Me tour, which she has performed throughout her four-year residency at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, features 27 of her greatest hits. Considering the sheer volume of iconic pop songs in her repertoire, from "…Baby One More Time" to "Toxic" and "Circus", you’d be forgiven for forgetting that she is still only 36 and less than two decades into her career. After making stops at Scarborough, London, Manchester and Glasgow, Spears will continue the final leg of the tour in mainland Europe.
Particular highlights include the crowd screaming, in unison, “Who is it?!” for Britney to respond with the iconic “It’s Britney, bitch,” on the intro for "Gimme More". Originating from a viral video. this is an “in joke” that fans now share with her and never fails to generate a laugh from Spears herself, piercing the show’s hyper-rehearsed exterior.
Before returning for an encore, two of her most “screamable” songs - "Stronger" and "(You Drive Me) Crazy" - close the set, preceding yet more shrieks during "Till the World Ends", the final song of the night. Confetti canons fire and Britney waves a Pride flag. I must confess that a tear or two is rolling down my cheek by this point - and I'm certainly not the only one.
It is Spears’s strength and vulnerability in the face of her troubles that most endears her to her fans. She is instantly forgiven for things that would would normally sink other stars, such as her well-known aversion to live singing.
Despite seeming more at home in an era gone by, this performance style is all part of the “Britney” package. No one goes to her concerts expecting live vocals or much in the way of spontaneity. They want to see “the hits” - even if it means braving the “potentially deadly” travel conditions of this year’s Brighton Pride.
At times Spears appeared slightly robotic and distant, but you can’t help but be moved by her performing in front of a record-breaking, supportive crowd when it once seemed as though her life was spiralling out of control. In her own words, she’s been “Miss American Dream since I was 17” - a woman who refused to combust under the pressure of becoming so famous at such a young age. "Piece Of Me" is a survivor story, an underdog tale, and, for her LGBT+ fans, it's a “coming out” story as well.
The decision to give Spears, a cisgendered heterosexual woman, such a central role in a Pride event was always going to generate criticism from some sections of the LGBT+ community. This is understandable given Pride’s origins as a protest and the debate over what it should be today.
Unlike Madonna or Lady Gaga, Spears is not known for making political statements, or even regularly acknowledging her LGBT+ fans. But going to the concert was by no means mandatory for attendees, with a selection of free events across the city for those looking to explore Pride’s radical political roots. More of an acknowledgement of the occasion from Spears during the show, such as a few words about why she thinks Pride is important, would have been a way ingratiate herself with her doubters.
Wherever Spears’s career goes next, her glittery performance at Brighton Pride proves that few people can match her cultural impact, or personify the words “icon” or “megastar” quite like her. Twenty years on, people still want a “piece” of Spears. After succeeding when it once seemed like the world wanted her to fail, she’ll keep her fans dancing till the world ends. After all, it’s Britney, bitch.
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